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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first foray into Cabinet formation has followed the time-tested pattern of seniority, proportional representation to the extent possible and a clear inclination to accommodate the party’s suggestions and priorities.
At the same time, the helm of the government, beginning with the PM himself, for the first time comprises leaders who have never held a portfolio in the CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security) which is the apex decision-making body of the Cabinet. This means that besides following the learning curve, there is an opportunity for the new team to innovate and improve.
However, one of Modi’s first challenges would be forge an understanding with and among the CCS members, which would include party heavyweights starting with Rajnath Singh, who stood by Modi in party forums despite severe criticism; Sushma Swaraj, who most of the time stood on the other side among critics and Arun Jaitley, who has held up the Delhi end for Modi but has not always found himself on the same page with the party hierarchy.
On the face of it, the scene appears set for the PM to exercise authority and control through his team of advisors and bureaucrats in a possibly large and well-oiled PMO. Yet, politically, he would have to meet the challenge of effectively moderating between ensuring total command while projecting healthy debate and consensus-building in the CCS and maybe also the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA).
The seniority principle, which the BJP as a party is quite mindful of, has not only been followed but is even reflected in the order of protocol which is how the ministers took oath. So, for instance, there was considerable debate on M Venkaiah Naidu and whether he should be placed before or after Nitin Gadkari in the hierarchy. It was eventually decided that since Naidu became party president prior to Gadkari, he should be considered senior. Similarly, the two former Leaders of Opposition were ranked in the eventual order.
These leaders along with the likes of Gopinath Munde, Ananth Kumar will also form the core of the CCPA which would eventually have to clear all politically sensitive decisions.
The rest of the Cabinet selection bears out the conservative pattern even more explicitly. While it’s a small cabinet with 40 BJP members and five allies, there are no non-politicians in the list despite the BJP indicating on several occasions that it would rope in